Scuba Diving In The Panhandle Of Florida
If your a US diver who doesn’t want to pay the expense of airfare to a more exotic location, I cannot imagine a much better location than the panhandle of Florida. It’s close to many mid US states and has some epic dives for divers from the upper states. Florida delivers a remarkably diverse selection of dive destinations. I realize you might have read about all of the fantastic scuba diving through the Keys, but be aware that there are about 1300 miles of Florida coastline. There is great diving on both coasts and don’t forget about the inland diving, specifically the fresh water springs of central and north Florida.
We are going to focus on the Panhandle of Florida. It is called the Emerald Coast due to the bright green waters of the gulf and their exceptionally white colored shores. This specific excursion makes it worth while simply to go to the beach.
Panhandle scuba diving might be more exhilaration as compared to tranquil beauty. You will need to go on a charter dive because most dives start at about 60 ft and typically are 80 ft. plus. There are numerous wrecks down the panhandle coast. Many are man-made reefs brought to life by sinking ships, , railroad cars as well as debris from demoed construction. A few of these man-made reefs are usually in under 60 feet however, the majority are regarded as deeper dives. These types of wrecks and reefs usually are filled with marine life. This can be a spear sport fishing heaven. Large Grouper, Red Snapper, Flounder and Amberjack are plentiful. Huge schools of bait fish will virtually cover you in total darkness.
One dive not to be missed here will be the Empire Mica. The Mica was a 460′ merchant ship that was actually torpedoed from a German U-boat during WWII. Many people don’t realize that in the early part of that war, U boats were combing the water off both coasts of Florida. The amazing wreck is located on the sandy ocean bottom at around 100 feet plus and located 45 miles just offshore from the big bend section of the Florida’s gulf coast. Much of the hull had been damaged by a series of hurricanes that passed through this area in recent years. In spite of the hull damage, this can be a magnificent dive. A search shows that there are no regular dive boats going to this wreck so if you have a boat the GPS info is Lat: 29 18.72 N and Long: 85 21.22 W. If you don’t have access to your own boat, your best option would be to book a charter out of Panama City. The currents on the wreck are often very strong and has been each time we dove on this wreck. Excellent visibility is rare around the Mica however, if it is good this can be a beautiful dive. Check out the incredible video below on divers spearfishing on the dive site. You can get a good idea of viability in the video as its typical.
Spearfishing the Empire Mica
Here’s another great video on wreck diving off Panama City, Fl.
Wet suit question while diving Florida waters
I’m going scuba diving in Florida next week and was packing my gear, is my wetsuit which is a 2pc bib style I think probably 6.5mm thick going to be too warm for Florida (Orlando area, springs and maybe Gulf side diving i.e. Venice Beach)? I do get cold easily but I’m more used to Pacific water which is generally colder anyhow, so I’d hate to be too warm.
Also, for Florida diving what’s the alligator diving hazard there for springs?
Nobody can tell you what wetsuit will be best for you, only you know exactly how comfortable you will be at a given water temperature. That said, a 6.5mm farmer john/jacket combo seems like overkill for Florida diving…most people tend to use that level of protection in temps below 60-65 F or so. While I usually recommend that people err on the side of warmth, that sounds like too much for Florida…but again only you are in the position to make that call.
If I were you I would do some research on the water temps where you plan to dive and use your experience with your 6.5mm two-piece at other water temps, then make your decision. Operating blindly, I would think a well-fitting 5mm suit would be enough but only you can say for sure what is right for you.
FYI…I just checked a sea temperature chart and found the Gulf temps in the 85 F range. Many people would view those temperatures as comfortable in no wetsuit (not me!), a 3mm shorty, or a 3mm jumpsuit. The springs may be more in the 75 F range. You might want to consider layering to handle that range of temperatures, use a 3mm in the Gulf and add a 3mm hooded vest in the springs. Or something. 🙂
Add your own answer in the comments!
Best Places to SCUBA Dive in Florida: The Panhandle